Good literature helps us understand human relations, especially when people’s lives are being upended by the COVID-19 pandemic. Its nuances, twists and turns, dilemmas and paradoxes are invaluable and “help us see more than is otherwise seen and focus on what ultimately matters,” as Scotty McLennan, the former dean for religious life at Stanford, pointed out in “Reading Through the Pandemic,” an April 23 report by the Graduate School of Stanford Business. 

“And that’s important during a crisis like COVID-19, because we see the human condition laid bare,” McLennan says. “We see the character of people and the interaction of all the different forces in society. I think it’s one of the best ways to find help.”

It’s also one of the best ways to help your child understand the seriousness of COVID-19 and its effect on the world, as well as build their vocabulary and language skills when you read aloud to them. 

For its 25th anniversary, the Texas Book Festival is stressing the importance of reading by offering authors from all over Texas as part of its first virtual event from Oct. 31 to Nov. 15, including activist Erin Brockovich, legendary suspense novelist Dean Koontz, and Academy Award-winning actor Matthew McConaughey, who plans to discuss his new memoir “Greenlights” with actor and poet Ethan Hawke. 

“Ever since I learned to write, I’ve been keeping a journal, writing down anything that turned me on, turned me off, made me laugh, made me cry, and made me question, what kept me up at night,” McConaughey said when he announced the memoir in a July video. “Two years ago, I worked up the courage to take all those journals off into solitary confinement just to see what the hell I had, and I returned with a book.”

Matthew McConaughey, photo courtesy Denis Makarenko / Shutterstock.com

The virtual event will broadcast through Crowdcast and all pre-recorded videos will be released on the festival’s website. The majority of the festival is free, but some events do cost such as Hawke’s conversation with McConaughey. Other notable authors include Pulitzer Prize winner Isabel Wilkerson, National Book Award winner Sigrid Nunez, and National Media Arts winner Julia Alvarez. 

Though this year’s event is a virtual first, the Texas Book Festival has been around since the mid-’90s when the former First Lady of Texas, Laura Bush, set out to honor Texas authors and bring them together with their readers at an annual festival. With the help of Mary Margaret Farabee and a group of dedicated volunteers, they kicked off the first book festival in 1996 and today features more than 300 authors and 50,000 book lovers. 

But they weren’t just offering an intimate conversation with Texas authors. It also helps promote literacy through several literary and literacy programs throughout the year. They’ve donated more than $3 million to local libraries and 117,000 books to students in Title 1 schools through their Reading Rock Stars and Real Reads programs. 

Their vision is to inspire a love of reading in all Texans with the book festival seeking to connect “authors and readers through experiences that celebrate the culture of literacy, ideas, and imagination.”

The book festival was held each fall in and around the State Capitol in downtown Austin, offering a weekend of author presentations and panels, book signings, cooking demonstrations and activities for all ages. Food trucks would set up to offer fine Texas cuisine. Thousands of volunteers helped make it a success and garner a national reputation.

Then COVID-19 struck. 

This year, the book festival is offering two weeks of virtual events with more than 125 authors participating. It kicks off with the Texas Teen Book Festival Oct. 31 through Nov. 1. The keynote speaker is National Book Award winner Elizabeth Acevedo, the author of “Clap When You Land” on Saturday morning and New York Times best-selling author Nic Stone, who will be discussing “Dear Justyce” on Saturday afternoon. 

Delve into the hearts of children during the children’s program week from Nov. 2 – 6 and 11. Several children’s authors will be discussing their books, including John Rocco (“How We Got to the Moon”), Kelly J. Baptist (“Isaiah Dunn Is My Hero”), and David Bowles (“Rise of the Halfling King”). 

Adult programming begins Nov. 6 and lasts until Nov. 15. All week several panels with authors will be taking place, including presentations from the Texas Institute of Letters and the 2020 Whiting Award Winners in Poetry. 

Matthew McConaughey’s conversation with Ethan Hawke takes placeat 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 7. The ticket price is $41 with the book included as part of the purchase. 

The Lit Crawl also begins Saturday, Nov. 7 with Literary Death Match and Chicon Street Poets Presents and continues Nov. 8, 13 – 15. 

To purchase books from the authors visit https://www.bookpeople.com/2020-virtual-texas-book-festival

Christian McPhate

Christian McPhate is the managing editor of Local Profile. He has been working as a journalist for more than a decade. His work has appeared in a number of publications, including the Dallas Morning News,...